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Land of plenty

Canada is the place where my neighbour and I want to be

By David Wilson

My wife’s American cousin is moving back to the the United States after spending 12 years in Honduras, carving a farm out of the jungle. Last year, as Honduras descended into political chaos and lawlessness, he and his wife decided to pull up stakes.

Now they’re starting over in rural Arkansas. I had a chance to talk to him when he came up for a visit this past summer. He is well aware that the United States has its problems, too: failed banks, a government in debt, mortgage foreclosures, two wars, an addiction to oil, decaying cities, politicians who are the servants of special interests.

After a while he asked, “So what’s the big controversy in Canada right now?”

I thought for a moment and replied, a little sheepishly, “The census form.”

I had just finished a three-month sabbatical. Stepping away from the day-to-day grind helped to put a lot of things in perspective. One of those things was a stronger sense of how fortunate we Canadians are. The conversation with my American relative was one of several eye-openers.

Another was a trip with a group of church journalists and travel writers to the Middle East. We were guests of the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism, so I was not surprised by the partisan slant of the trip. What I was unprepared for was the harshness of what I saw for myself.

I was particularly shaken by the sight of the teenage Israeli army conscripts enforcing an occupation in the West Bank that is as much about harassment and humiliation as it is about security. Every time I saw a gun-toting young woman at a checkpoint, I couldn’t help but think of my own 18-year-old daughter back home, heading off to university with a heart that has been taught to be tolerant and a future that promises to be free of conflict.

On the same trip, I met a couple from Kansas. They had cancelled their private health insurance because they couldn’t afford the premiums and now risk catastrophic medical bills if they fall seriously ill. I thought about the first-rate hospital care several members of my immediate and extended family have received thanks to this country’s public health-care system.

One afternoon in late June, I helped my neighbour hang a Canadian flag from his front porch. He was born in Calcutta but lived in Uganda until Idi Amin expelled South Asians in the early 1970s. He is now proud to call himself Canadian. Lately his life has not been easy, but he was determined that the red maple leaf would fly on Canada Day. He smiled as the flag caught a breeze.

This month, families will gather to give thanks for the bounty of summer. I, too, will give thanks for the food that nourishes me. But I will also give thanks for the opportunity to discern that the place where I live is the place where I want to be. Even if not very much happens here.

New Canadians are planting churches at an astounding rate, but their interpretation of Christianity is markedly different from the mainstream. In this month’s cover story, Global flair, Samantha Rideout explores a global church that has come north.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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